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Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 9 months ago

Summary of the History of Copyright Law: Dates and Revisions



William Caxton brought the first printing press to England in 1476, helping to unify England through a common language. As the number of printing presses grew, Henry the VIII began feeling threatened and started licensing to control the publications of books that were critical of the Crown. In 1662 The Licensing Act was passed. This act established a register of liscensed books that the Stationers Company, a group of printers with the authority to censor, was to administer. In 1695, The Licensing Act was no longer enforced, leading to the relaxation of government censorship. However, in 1710 Parliament created the Statute of Anne (seen below).



This is considered the first real copyright law. The statute gives authors rather than printers the control of the reproduction of their own works. It gave authors a monopoly on their works for twenty-one years if the work had already been printed prior to the time of the statutes enactment and gave authors a fourteen-year term for all works produced after 1710. The term was renewable for fourteen more years if the author was alive upon expiration of the previous term. The intellectual property provision of the U.S. constitution was modeled after this act to fight censorship and to advance learning (Association of Research Libraries, par. 1).


The United States


In 1787 the U.S. constitution was created. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution refers to the power Congress has to pass copyright laws. The Constitution states, "the Congress shall have power . . . to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries"(Association of Research Libraries, par. 1).


In 1783, Noah Webster, trying to protect the revenues from his best-selling American Spelling Book, successfully lobbied the Connecticut State Legislature to pass the nation’s first copyright law in 1783 (Cohen and Rosenzweig, par. 1). In 1790, the first copyright law was passed by congress. The Copyright Act of 1790 was similar to the Statute of Anne. It gave the creators of works the monopoly to print, re-print or publish their work for a period of fourteen years with the ability to renew this monopoly for another fourteen years (Association of Research Libraries, par. 4). However, Webster and his allies were not content with this act; they wanted perpetual copyrights. They did not succeed. However, in 1831, the Revision of the Copyright Act was enacted. This extended the term of the copyrighted works to twenty-eight years with the ability to extend the copyright another fourteen years. This revision applied to future works as well as works whose copyright had not yet expired (Association of Research Libraries, par. 5).


In 1834 a court case arose because of a dispute between an official reporter of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Peters, and the previous reporter, Henry Wheaton. Peters published condensed reports of cases that were decided during Wheaton’s tenure. Wheaton sued. Peters claimed that Wheaton had not properly obtained copyright, while Wheaton argued that authors were entitled to perpetual property rights. This was the Wheatons v. Peters case. The Supreme Court rejected Wheaton’s idea that copyright could be a perpetual right (Cohen and Rosenzweig, par. 4).


In 1870 copyright law was again revised, giving authors the rights over translations and dramatic adaptations of their works. This protected authors “ideas,” and went against the decision in the Stowe v. Thomas case in 1853. In this revision the administration of copyright registration was moved from the individual district courts to the Library of Congress (Association of Research Libraries, par. 8). In 1909, after authors like Mark Twain pushed for an increase in the duration of copyright to be the life of the author plus fifty years, a compromise was made. The copyright law was revised yet again, broadening the categories protected to include all works of an author for twenty-eight years, plus a possible renewal for another twenty-eight years (Cohen and Rosenzweig, par. 5). In 1976, another copyright revision was made. This one extended the term to exactly what Twain had requested, protection for the life of the author plus fifty years. In addition, for the first time fair use and first sale doctrines were made. Under this revision, libraries were allowed to photocopy without permission for scholarly, preservation and interlibrary loan purposes. Copyright was also extended to unpublished works (Association of research Libraries, par. 15).


In 1988, the United States became a Berne signatory, which gave more protection for proprietors, new copyright relationships with twenty-four countries and eliminated the requirement of copyright notice for copyright protection (Association of Research Libraries, par. 23). In 1990, the Copyright Act was amended to prohibit commercial lending of computer software (Association of Research Libraries, par. 24). In 1992, copyright renewal became automatic. President Clinton in 1998, signed a measure into a law that extended protection for the life of the author plus seventy years. This was called the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. The law had an exception that permitted libraries, archives, and non-profit educational institutions to treat copyrighted works as the public domain for non-commercial purposes and under certain conditions, in the last twenty years of protection. Also in 1998, President Clinton signed the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) into a law on October 28 (Association of Research Libraries, par. 41-42). This will be discussed in great detail throughout the rest of this website.


Court Cases

The History of International Copyright Law


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